Objects, Records and Oral History Workshop for the Maltese Community

The Migration Heritage Project held this workshop for the Maltese Community on 15 June 2004 at the George Cross Falcons Club in Cringila. The Maltese community, as it is now, is an ageing population and there is the very real potential that all historical information about the community will be lost unless some measures are taken to ensure that it is recorded and preserved. The new generation is blending with the Australian culture and unfortunately are not aware of their role in ensuring that their parents or grandparents stories and objects are kept. Some are genuinely not really interested. Lorraine Vargas’ idea is to get the information and to preserve it. This information can then be accessed by schools, or even the wider community of Wollongong. As with most migrant history settlement in Wollongong, little is held, known or acknowledged by way of records, objects or museums. The George Cross Falcons Club documents are mainly ‘club documents’ but they also contain information about the Maltese community settlement in Wollongong; for example from the parish priest about the period before the club was built. Answers to questions like what was the migration pattern for the Maltese people can be found in such documents and therefore we now know that like most European migrants the people came before World War I and after World War II. But do you have any idea about who the first families were? How would the history of the Maltese Club help the Maltese community find out about their community? The Maltese Club is the only Maltese place in the Illawarra as a ‘centre’ for the Maltese. Also the Warrawong church (St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church) is an important focal and historical point for the Maltese community in Wollongong. The Warrawong hall was used as a church during the day and at night for dancing (social functions). The priest was very important. The Maltese built the church and then the club in 1951. St Francis of Assisi is the Maltese church.

Maltese migrants had immigrated to the South Coast of NSW well before World War 2. Many had also migrated to the cane fields of Queensland and northern NSW in the early 1950s and before that there were some Maltese living in Port Kembla and predominately in the Cringila area. In 1951, the Maltese in Wollongong got together and decided to establish a club to help the newer migrants. Many of the newer migrants could not speak English, so the Maltese migrants from Wollongong who could speak English would to go to Sydney Harbour to welcome the new arrivals and bring them to Port Kembla and find them accommodation and employment. Employment was usually found for them at the steelworks. This service was provided to all Maltese newcomers. Mr Lorry Pave, John Mallia, Joe Cassar, Joe Magro and others decided it was now time to start a proper club so they organised a committee meeting which was held in a tin shed across from the club or otherwise they would meet in each others houses respectively. A fee of 10 cents per week was given by each member which went towards funding for the Club.

Migration Heritage Project Maltese community workshop held George Cross Falcons Club
A Group of volunteers begin building the club

In 1953 two block lots were bought for 200 pounds each. In 1955 two basement rooms were built all by volunteers. These two rooms were used as a place where the Maltese Community could meet to play cards and in no time at all the club had a soccer team and joined the business houses competition. A few years later members were asked to donate to the club the sum of 50 pounds for material so that the club can build an upstairs section. Once again, all the work was done by volunteer labour. This work was started in the 1960s and it finished in a few years. This is where the club is today. The club has a billiard table, table tennis, chess boards for everyone to use and it also has a bocci pit. Every Sunday the club has bingo. The George Cross Falcons Club has hosted many Maltese and local dignitaries over the years including a visit in 1992 by Harry Cordina the President of Malta at the time. The years following has seen the exterior of the Club bricked and extensions to the kitchen.The club has experienced some decline in patronage to the point where it was almost ready to close its doors. But, today we are happy to say that we have now got a Welfare Officer available to all the Maltese in the community and the club facilities are still here for everyone to use and everyone is most welcomed to use the club facilities.

This workshop held at the George Cross Falcons Club on Tuesday 15 June 2004 and allowed the Community Worker, Lorraine Vargas, to talk about why the collecting and documenting of records is important and her role in collating all this information. The Chairperson of the Migration Heritage Project, Franca Facci, spoke about the Migration Heritage Project and its overview of collection processes. George Bajjada, President of the George Cross Falcons Club spoke about what support can be expected from the Club and the Maltese Community of Wollongong.

The Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural NSW provided funds for an exhibition of the heritage of a migrant community in the Illawarra and some preliminary work on the heritage of another community. The MHP approached the Maltese community to see if they were interested in being the community highlighted with this funding and they took up the offer very enthusiastically. The exhibition was held 2-16 September 2006 in the foyer of the Wollongong City Council Building in Burelli Street, Wollongong.